Via BoingBoing.net today, I found a forbes.com article [since taken down, but archived here] that is one of the most offensive things I’ve ever read in my life. I can’t believe that it found its way into a national publication in 2006. The point of it is that men shouldn’t marry “career women” (also called “career girl[s]” in the article) because marriage to a “career woman” makes the husband more likely to get divorced, less likely to have children, unhappy if his wife makes more than he does, more likely to “fall ill,” and consigned to live in a “dirtier” home.
There are some things worth writing a rebuttal to, and this article not is one of them. However, I was inspired by Xeni Jardin of Boing Boing to do something with it.
I pasted the whole thing to a Word document and then reversed all the gendered nouns and pronouns. Everything below is word-for-word from the article; I did absolutely nothing but switch gender.
Ladies and gentlemen, behold: Don’t Marry Career Men
Don’t Marry Career Men
Michael Noer 08.22.06, 6:00 AM ET
Gals: A word of advice. Marry pretty men or ugly ones. Short ones or tall ones. Blondes or brunettes. Just, whatever you do, don’t marry a man with a career.
Why? Because if many social scientists are to be believed, you run a higher risk of having a rocky marriage. While everyone knows that marriage can be stressful, recent studies have found professional men are more likely to get divorced, more likely to cheat, less likely to have children, and, if they do have kids, they are more likely to be unhappy about it. A recent study in Social Forces, a research journal, found that men–even those with a “feminist” outlook–are happier when their wife is the primary breadwinner.
Not a happy conclusion, especially given that many women, particularly successful women, are attracted to men with similar goals and aspirations. And why not? After all, your typical career guy is well-educated, ambitious, informed and engaged. All seemingly good things, right? Sure…at least until you get married. Then, to put it bluntly, the more successful he is the more likely he is to grow dissatisfied with you. Sound familiar?
Many factors contribute to a stable marriage, including the marital status of your spouse’s parents (folks with divorced parents are significantly more likely to get divorced themselves), age at first marriage, race, religious beliefs and socio-economic status. And, of course, many working men are indeed happily and fruitfully married–it’s just that they are less likely to be so than non-working men. And that, statistically speaking, is the rub.
To be clear, we’re not talking about a high-school dropout minding a cash register. For our purposes, a “career guy” has a university-level (or higher) education, works more than 35 hours a week outside the home and makes more than $30,000 a year.
If a host of studies are to be believed, marrying these men is asking for trouble. If they quit their jobs and stay home with the kids, they will be unhappy ( Journal of Marriage and Family, 2003). They will be unhappy if they make more money than you do ( Social Forces, 2006). You will be unhappy if they make more money than you do ( Journal of Marriage and Family, 2001). You will be more likely to fall ill ( American Journal of Sociology). Even your house will be dirtier ( Institute for Social Research).
Why? Well, despite the fact that the link between work, men and divorce rates is complex and controversial, much of the reasoning is based on a lot of economic theory and a bit of common sense. In classic economics, a marriage is, at least in part, an exercise in labor specialization. Traditionally men have tended to do “market” or paid work outside the home and women have tended to do “non-market” or household work, including raising children. All of the work must get done by somebody, and this pairing, regardless of who is in the home and who is outside the home, accomplishes that goal. Nobel laureate Gary S. Becker argued that when the labor specialization in a marriage decreases–if, for example, both spouses have careers–the overall value of the marriage is lower for both partners because less of the total needed work is getting done, making life harder for both partners and divorce more likely. And, indeed, empirical studies have concluded just that.
In 2004, John H. Johnson examined data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation and concluded that gender has a significant influence on the relationship between work hours and increases in the probability of divorce. Men’s work hours consistently increase divorce, whereas increases in women’s work hours often have no statistical effect. “I also find that the incidence in divorce is far higher in couples where both spouses are working than in couples where only one spouse is employed,” Johnson says. A few other studies, which have focused on employment (as opposed to working hours) have concluded that working outside the home actually increases marital stability, at least when the marriage is a happy one. But even in these studies, husbands’ employment does correlate positively to divorce rates, when the marriage is of “low marital quality.”
The other reason a career can hurt a marriage will be obvious to anyone who has seen their mate run off with a co-worker: When your spouse works outside the home, chances increase they’ll meet someone they like more than you. “The work environment provides a host of potential partners,” researcher Adrian J. Blow reported in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, “and individuals frequently find themselves spending a great deal of time with these individuals.”
There’s more: According to a wide-ranging review of the published literature, highly educated people are more likely to have had extra-marital sex (those with graduate degrees are 1.75 more likely to have cheated than those with high school diplomas.) Additionally, individuals who earn more than $30,000 a year are more likely to cheat.
And if the cheating leads to divorce, you’re really in trouble. Divorce has been positively correlated with higher rates of alcoholism, clinical depression and suicide. Other studies have associated divorce with increased rates of cancer, stroke, and sexually-transmitted disease. Plus divorce is financially devastating. According to one recent study on “Marriage and Divorce’s Impact on Wealth,” published in The Journal of Sociology, divorced people see their overall net worth drop an average of 77%.
So why not just stay single? Because, academically speaking, a solid marriage has a host of benefits beyond just individual “happiness.” There are broader social and health implications as well. According to a 2004 paper entitled “What Do Social Scientists Know About the Benefits of Marriage?” marriage is positively associated with “better outcomes for children under most circumstances,” higher earnings for adult women, and “being married and being in a satisfying marriage are positively associated with health and negatively associated with mortality.” In other words, a good marriage is associated with a higher income, a longer, healthier life and better-adjusted kids.
A word of caution, though: As with any social scientific study, it’s important not to confuse correlation with causation. In other words, just because married folks are healthier than single people, it doesn’t mean that marriage is causing the health gains. It could just be that healthier people are more likely to be married.